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In our blog this week, coach Lisa Hilton shares insight on how childhood trauma can shape workplace behaviours, and how leaders can help support survivors of childhood trauma.

Childhood Trauma survivors learn to pretend early in life – their existence depends on it. Often navigating a world that is as scary and unpredictable is a minefield, they adopt various coping strategies that eventually become maladaptive. Later in life, they may wonder who they are, feel *stuck*, find that healthy relationships escape them, find they’re emotionally numb, and other challenges. This in part, impacts emotional regulation – spilling into relationships, social settings, work ethic, and the like.


The behaviours

First, it would be helpful to identify some behaviours that may manifest:

· Driven to succeed at all costs, having the characteristics of a Type – A personality or narcissistic leanings – covert or overt

· Hold themselves back at work, don’t raise their hands in meetings, keep themselves small – they may be the quiet ones

· Avoid confrontation no matter what or enjoys conflict

· May not handle criticism well perhaps being labeled as *too sensitive*

· Chronically negative or critical, play the *devil’s advocate* or polar opposite

· Addiction[s] that impact healthy living

· Poor time-management skills, disorganized, procrastinates

· Health challenges (see here for a study on the link between childhood trauma and chronic disease risk https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/)


The symptoms

These *symptoms* in and of themselves don’t necessarily prove childhood trauma. However, when these behaviours are multiple and or impact professional performance and interpersonal relationships, probably there is something else going on.


What can managers do to support?

As a manager or leader, what can you do to support these ones?


1. Be Psychologically Safe

Take a personal interest in all your employees. Manifest open curiosity

Show that you are approachable

Frequently commend [specific and genuine] and encourage


2. Listen

Listen to understand, be kind

Be curious

Withhold judgment


3. Avoid Toxic Positivity (see more from Brene Brown on Empathy v Sympathy)

Toxic positivity includes comments like:

always look on the bright side

just think positive thoughts

don’t dwell on the negative

don’t be such a downer

This form of communication is guilt-tripping and shame-inducing. Childhood trauma causes physiological damage, so it’s also a medical issue. Thinking positive is not the solution.

Toxic positivity is a form of Gaslighting. It dismisses another’s pain and suffering. It invalidates and is disrespectful.


4. Invest in your employees – ensure you have trauma-educated mental health support available

Accept the fact that approximately one third to one half of employees [humankind] are dealing with some sort of childhood trauma, whether they’re aware or not

Create and maintain an environment where these ones feel safe and it’s ok to make mistakes

Educate yourself – read material such as Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker and or What Happened to You, by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah

Provide Trauma Informed education to staff


5. If/When an Employee Discloses to You–

Hold non-judgmental space

Say, “I’m sorry this happened to you. You didn’t deserve this.”

Say, “I believe you”

Say, “It wasn’t your fault”

Ask, “What can I do to support you?”


This guest blog was written by Lisa Hilton, Advanced Certified Trauma Recovery Coach. Lisa supports adult survivors of childhood trauma, providing 1:1 and Group Coaching. You can find Lisa on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram as Lisa B Hilton, CRTC [A]